Monday morning’s All-School Assembly launches with the Teacher On Active Duty (TOAD) sharing something of interest—a reflection, a story or song, a demonstration of some sort, or a simple poem. In this way, every week, the community gets to know one of our own a little better. This week, Elizabeth Honorato was the TOAD. Ms. Honorato joined the Thacher Mathematics Department this year. She also advises sophomore girls in the Middle School dorm and coaches girls’ JV basketball. Her TOADTalk is featured below.
My name is Elizabeth Honorato, I teach mathematics. But today, I’d like to talk about my experience with dance.
My first introduction to any type of dancing started here [see the photo].
I was in first grade in Eastman Elementary School down in East LA getting ready to perform a short Mexican Folklorico piece. That’s my brother, two years older, also performing later that day.
Not sure why I seem a bit upset now that I look at that photo, but I remember the experience being fun and exciting. In Eastman it was tradition to embrace all present cultures within the school either through music, food, talent shows, even dance. We had a yearly showcase; so for four years I put on my tap shoes, colorful outfit, and hit the stage. Eastman was a school comprised of a predominantly Latinx student body. In my time, according to Ed-Data, it was 97.2 percent Latinx. Within that statistic, 87 percent identified as Mexican or of Mexican American descent. So, it was certain that we would have dances like Jarabe Tapatio, el baile de los viejitos, or even Caballito Dorado. These four elementary years of dance were truly an important part of my learning experience, as they not only further strengthened my pride and love for the beauty of my culture, but they also introduced me to rhythm and movement.
The next phase of my dance life started in high school. At home, dance was not a huge part of what “we did,” but music always filled my house, so I would constantly create choreography in my head or move around bumping into everything as I did so. But in high school, I remember showing up to my first ballet class with Ms. Luca and leaving terrified because it was so darn hard. I didn’t have the flexibility, the footwork, the styling; and the music was so different. It was beautiful, but it was not what I was used to hearing at home. However, I persisted and continued to take classes, including jazz and modern, enjoying them for what they were and although I was not very good, I knew every practice was going to make me better.
Thankful for having the opportunity to better myself as a dancer in high school, I continued to do a bit of my own creating and moving, using what I had learned and applying it in social dancing in my years following school. However, Latin-American music continued to be about 80 percent of my heart.
I was determined to learn beautiful styles like Salsa, Brazilian Zouk, Bachata, Forró, and Kizomba through instructors and workshops on the East Coast. Bachata, above all of the dances that I learned, was the most intriguing and fun, with its playful steps and music that has a mix of African rhythms and Dominican roots. I devoted many nights to taking classes along with balancing work and spending time with friends, which was so important to me.
Hard work pays off. Four years ago, I was hired as an instructor at a company in Boston, where I taught the basics of Bachata shines and partner-work. Many of my students were completely new to dance. They didn’t know how to read the beats and rhythms in music and often relied on counts as opposed to feeling and experiencing the moment in the music. But they were determined, just as I was, to better themselves in their dancing endeavors.
I got to meet people of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and professions. We all came together through the common language of dance. Again, many [members of my ladies choreography group] were new to dance, yet they were unafraid of trying something new. I would instruct these ladies for about six to seven months and they would then perform on various stages around Boston. Sometimes I’d join them on stage as well.
And, I also taught a men’s styling group!
I was a woman teaching men to dance and yet that wasn’t represented in the dance, so I decided to dance with them! I put on my hat, my sneakers, and gave it a little of my own swagger. I later changed the name to Bachata Styling Group as to be non-exclusive of different genders, because I think women were allowed to dance just as men do and vice versa. There can be female leads and males can follow in dances.
Every time I see [a photo of us performing] I get a beautiful funky feeling because of three things:
These performers are fearless. They hit the stage and gave it their all despite never performing for a large crowd before.
The crowds were really focused, and everyone in their own way. But they were all into it!
After we were done, we had a group huddle and we started bouncing from excitement. They were their own harshest critic going into it. There were obviously mistakes, some nerves, wrong turns, etc., but despite those they were super happy. All they could remember was the cheers of the crowd and those mistakes didn’t even matter.
So, if I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be to challenge yourself to try something new in your journey going forward. Take positive risks. There might be mistakes along the way, but don’t worry, mistakes can always be fixed. Don’t turn the other way and later wonder "What if I had done that?" Do It. Go For It. In dancing, and in various aspects of your life, you will see, everything you do with determination, love, joy, and ambition, you will reap positive benefits from it.
Now, I’d like to engage all of you in a short Bachata song with the help of a few people on stage. [Faculty members Alexandre Carvalho, Jason Carney, Russell Spinney, and Françoise Kasimirowski-Garcia joined her on stage along with James ’20, Kevin ’20, Victoria ’21, and Fatoumata ’20.] We all have various levels of dance skill, but we are up here willing, able, and with much heart.
Everyone get up! Follow our lead. I hope to have classes in the near future where I will teach these in depth, but for now, just follow our lead. [The crowd rose and danced along.]
Thank you so much to all of the people who got on stage with me today and for your participation as an audience! Before I get off the stage, I’d like to do one more thing. I couldn’t waste the opportunity to be here and not perform. I made a choreography one week ago and I’d like to perform it with my husband, Alex. We’ve had one week of rehearsal. It’s not perfect, we’re not perfect, but we love this. It is what it is, there may be mistakes … but whatever. We’re going for it! Thank you!